News & Updates

Orson Welles, Falstaff, Dean Martin and Theater

March 30, 2017

Here, in just under 6 minutes, is everything in theater that is valuable to me. And to those of you who understand this as I do (and there are many of you, I have come to learn).

And to think, at one time in this country, only two generations ago, this kind of fare could be seen every week on network television, nationwide. Shall we ever see its like again?

Filming Othello (1978): Welles, Edwards, MacLiammoir

March 27, 2017

I’ve watched the Orson Welles “Othello” (1952) several times with increasing admiration. As a fan from earliest youth of Welles’s film and radio work, I’d not had the chance to watch his film discussion of the making of that film until it popped up on YouTube. It’s lo-fi, but the best we have at present.

“Filming Othello,” (1978)

In much of the film, Welles speaks into the camera. His body is almost entirely still; the camera angle changes only infrequently. Yet his manner is engaging, his stories regale. I found it rather incredible that I did not wish to turn away, such was his skill and presence. Nor any less important is the subject of his monologue.

The tit-bits regarding the production behind the scenes illuminate and inspire: they demonstrate the perseverance and genius that made excellent use of unfortunate (which they turned to happy) accident. For example, after months of preparation, the cast and crew hired, the producer’s bankruptcy interrupted filming on location in Morocco. Costumes were suddenly unavailable. They ordered costumes to be made locally, taking 10 days. But what was the cast and crew to shoot without costumes? They were all to be paid during this period, of course. “We will shoot the murder of Rodrigo in a Turkish Bath!” was the resolution, arrived at by means of great genius. For there were Turkish baths in Cyprus at the time of the setting of the play and towels alone were required to shoot the scene.

But, for me, the most intriguing section of the film is the conversation over lunch Welles has with Hilton Edwards (Brabantio) and one of my stage idols, Micheal MacLiammoir (Iago), on the ideas that undergird the theatrical expression of character in the play. Micheal MacLiammoir can be seen in the 1960 television production, The Importance of Being Oscar.

This is an endearing one man show that one can’t watch too often, so fertile is his work that one can mine it over and again to learn from. The two men are the subject of this wonderful biography, The Boys (2002), by Christopher Fitz-Simon, which I recommend to anyone interested in the Irish theater. Or, for that matter, more broadly, the underpinnings of English language theater, which I would posit are very much Irish, such has been their literary and theatrical influence.

Without giving away too much of “Filming Othello” the level of the conversation about theater and acting on stage is thoroughly literate, profound and engaging. Well worth your time.

Andrea Riseborough and National Treasure — Classical Dramatic Themes in Modern Garb

March 5, 2017

If you haven’t seen Andrea Riseborough in the Hulu original, National Treasure, you must.

Yet another spectacular young talent. One can imagine her as a marvelous Antigone or equally, a Clytemnestra, or in any of the more contemporary high tragedies. She demonstrates a keen sense of the tragic and it’s roiling internal conflict, admirably avoiding the usual trap that is pathos. Believable right off the bat, with dramatic expression that constantly surprises. I think she steals the show among an already fantastic cast.

The show reveals itself as series of character studies developed over the course of an investigative line, that of a Jimmy Savile-like scandal involving alleged rapes by a comedian we assume is the “national treasure.” But while the format would seem just another common crime show, it proves itself to be far from that. It is, I think, a modern expression of some of the oldest dramatic themes in the West, done at the highest level.

Andrea Riseborough is the blonde in the first few seconds of this clip.

Performer’s Note: The Value of Failure

February 27, 2017

I was chatting with a talented younger performer earlier today and I thought this idea might be worthwhile for others.

My perspective, as one who has lived a little, is this: failure is to be encouraged. The first big failure is dramatic and dispiriting. When young, we take it personally. But you need to experience it, as painful as it is.

Why? Because when you get beyond it — learning from it — you will find the improvement that results was worth it. And you will have grown the hard skin necessary to move forward. The hard skin is just a matter of taking yourself a bit less seriously and more objectively.

Take it from me, as one who has failed many times, and then succeeded, the mountain becomes a hill we look at in the rear view mirror and laugh at!

The Arts, Propaganda and Civility: A Brief Discourse

February 18, 2017

Prior to 1968, American artists and performers generally avoided political advocacy in their work. While there were exceptions, the intrinsic quality of their work was higher than it is today. There is a connection. Sure, we can discuss this. But personal invective against the one with whom you disagree, rather than argument, demonstrates the fallacy of your ideas.

I’ve come to my conclusion: political advocacy in the arts is propaganda. Propaganda is subterfuge. It is essentially dishonest. It hides the motive to power while pretending to benefit the audience. It is beneath the thinking man and beneath the audience.

But more importantly, political advocacy in the guise of artistic work is destructive to the far greater purposes of the arts: the demonstration of Truth and Beauty which only the artist can discover.

Further, and not incidentally, propaganda demands that free-thinking creators toe the political line. I’ve lived in totalitarian and tribal societies and was grateful I could, unlike my friends, leave them. They were brutal societies. Those who lived among ideas as scholars and performers suffered very greatly, unless they surrendered.

I welcome the discussion. But it must be one in which the speaker cogently sets forth a position, adduces evidence in support of it and persuades, calmly and cooly. This is what is meant by civility.

Theater and “Relevancy”

February 14, 2017

When theater assumes the mantle of “relevancy,” it makes itself irrelevant because, in doing so, while pretending to address existential Truth, it in fact neglects the great Ideas which reside just outside of the material senses, but within the ken of the artist. This holds true for any aesthetic endeavor. One can’t live well on potato chips and beer: the body needs nourishment for health. Just so the soul.
 
It goes without saying that the promise of Art has been made increasingly unpopular over these past 50 years. We see the results in Western cultural work. Visit any art museum — walk through the Renaissance wing and then stroll through contemporary art. There is no comparison. Isn’t this cause for the greatest of concerns? I aver it is, without doubt.
 
And yet, having met, since I’ve come to Texas, some spectacularly talented people in theater, film and music who truly “get it,” I am hopeful. Some are my age, some a generation younger. Perhaps they might not see the big picture, which has only recently become clear to me, even after decades of rumination on aesthetic matters. But they get it.
 
I am always looking for these people. Would that a company might be formed on the premise of the Western aesthetic tradition, rather than on post-War revolutionary theory. I wonder who might reply to this, but I put this into the ether, that it might perhaps be fulfilled.

FATSO with Dom DeLuise

February 8, 2017

On Facebook, some of us were talking about our favorite movie — the one we’ve watched more than any other.  Here is mine: FATSO (1980) with Dom DeLuise, Ron Carey, Candy Azzara and Anne Bancroft.  A dozen times, at least.

In this scene, Dom is (again) trying to lose weight and, in a fit of midnight panic, calls his mentor at Chubby Checkers to sway him from snacking. They come over the apartment to talk about it.

Note the chains on the cabinets when Ron Carey’s character goes to the kitchen (just great detail). God above, let me be in a comedy like this!

 

New Digital Audio Workstation in the Studio

February 6, 2017

The copper heat sink in our new CS-80 fanless DAW custom-built for me by CoolTechPC in Battle Ground, WA. Absolutely silent and it stands right next to my Lawson L47MPII.

DAW Heat Sink
Massive copper heat sink in the new DAW

Some specs:

Asus Z170-A Motherboard

CPU: Intel i7-6700 Skylake 1151 (Quad-Core, 3.4 GHz, 16 lanes, 65W)

Fanless Power Supply: Silverstone NightJar SST-NJ520 (520W)

32GB Corsair DDR4 RAM

Many TB of data storage. Great for audiobook, music and video editing and sits right in the studio, as quiet as an obedient, intelligent child. How lovely!

Part of the complete studio revamp. New voice clips to follow.

Wilde’s Preface to “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

December 23, 2016

[I am delighted to share Wilde’s preface to “The Picture of Dorian Gray” once again as a New Year approaches.]

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

–Oscar Wilde.

Re-reading Orwell

December 20, 2016

Re-reading Orwell, I was struck by the relevance, if not prescience, of this passage. The entire article is well worth reading, especially as we come to the denouement (as I see it) of this cultural era in the West, to which I say, “One can’t bring the curtain down upon it fast enough!”
 
“If we look back at the English literature of the last ten years not so much at the literature as at the prevailing literary attitude, the thing that strikes us is that it has almost ceased to be aesthetic. Literature has been swamped by propaganda. I do not mean that all the books written during that period have been bad. But the characteristic writers of the time, people like Auden and Spender and MacNeice, have been didactic, political writers, aesthetically conscious, of course, but more interested in subject-matter than in technique. And the most lively criticism has nearly all of it been the work of Marxist writers, people like Christopher Caudwell and Philip Henderson and Edward Upward, who look on every book virtually as a political pamphlet and are far more interested in digging out its political and social implications than in its literary qualities in the narrow sense.”
 
–The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda (First broadcast on the BBC Overseas Service on April 30, 1941)